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Going After Shady Contractors

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A grab-bag bill approved on Wednesday by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee aims to shake up the business-as-usual world of federal contracting.

The Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Improvement Act would take a whack at the estimated $125 billion in undeserved payments made by agencies in 2010 by toughening a similar bill President Obama signed that same year. The bill would expand requirements for estimating agency improper payments, mandate a governmentwide "Do Not Pay List" for delinquent contractors, improve databases to reduce payments to deceased individuals, and expand pilot audit programs used successfully by Medicare to recover erroneous payments.

The Senate committee bill was welcomed by Rep. Todd Platts, R-Pa., who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Organization, Efficiency and Financial Management. He plans to work with the senators, saying, "Focusing on eliminating improper payments goes to the very heart of government accountability."

It all sounds unassailable, but well-behaved federal contractors may not be happy. As the Professional Services Council argues, compiling a governmentwide "Do Not Pay List" risks misinterpretation by the public, reporters and public interest groups that don't always understand past performance data in contracting.

Charlie Clark joined Government Executive in the fall of 2009. He has been on staff at The Washington Post, Congressional Quarterly, National Journal, Time-Life Books, Tax Analysts, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, and the National Center on Education and the Economy. He has written or edited online news, daily news stories, long features, wire copy, magazines, books and organizational media strategies.

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